The injured and overmatched college football teams of the area trek into the twilight of their season today, with three home games that involve not a single squad above 500.
Maryland (4-4) lost, 16-7, last Saturday to Atlantic Coast Conference leader North Carolina. The Terps must shake off that disappointment and the loss of key starters Steve Atkins and Brad Carr in this afternoon's game with 3-5 Villanova at Byrd Stadium.
Navy (4-4) is missing three of its top four defensive ends and rover Gregg Milo for its game against 3-5 Syracuse at Annapolis. Navy has won the last two against the Orangemen, but the Mids did it last year without having to deal with Syracuse's highly regarded quarterback, Bill Hurley, who was injured.
Howard (3-4) hosts a powerful but apparently confused Southern University team that has scored one touchdown in its last three games and changed coaches in the process. After a 23-0 loss to Alcorn State, a second straight shutout, the team boycotted practice, using the time to air grievances to the chancellor. Charles Bates resigned as head coach the next day.
Assistant head coach and offensive line coordinator Ken Tillage took over, and in his debut last week Southern dropped a 15-7 decision to heavy favorite Tennessee State. Southern is 3-4-1.
Southern runs the box veer, with a third running back lining up beside the quarterback over a tackle. Southern started the season with 11 quarterbacks and has used seven of them to complete just 30 of 116 passes and throw 15 interceptions.
Sophomore Alex Willis gets the call today, replacing Elgin Stewart, who was hurt two games ago.
"Physically, we're not nearly as deep, and we don't have the overall size they have," said Howard coach Doug Porter.
"They're a Division I school with a Division I program. It's a program like we would like ours to become."
Maryland would like to end the season with some semblance of style. Only Villanova. Richmond and Virginia remain on the schedule, and if Maryland can finish 7-4 it will at least look good on paper in the years to come.
The Terps have virtually no chance of regaining national respectability this season, as their only win over a ranked team came in the opener, when no one knew how good Clemson would turn out to be.
Villanova has managed to lose to the likes of Youngstown. Dayton and William & Mary, but did upset West Virginia, the team that put Maryland on the skids.
The Wildcats run from the wish-bone and have picked up the pace since inserting Pat O'Brien at quarterback. Villanova has six people who have carried at least 25 times and have averaged more than four yards a carry. It will not be the busiest of days for the Maryland secondary.
"The season is far from over. Villanova proved that last week by beating West Virginia," said Maryland coach Jerry Claiborne.
Fullback Vince Thompson leads the Villanova attack with 150 carries for 624 yards and six touchdowns.
"They run the wishbone about as well as you can run it," said Claiborne. "They run at you and run at you and run at you, they they'll play-action fake, and when they throw, it's long. One of every five passes is a touchdown."
Maryland will start sophomore George Scott at tailback and take a first look at freshman David Dixon in relief. Atkins is expected to miss the game with a pulled hamstring.
Carr also is expected to sit out with a hyperextended elbow. His line-backer spot goes to John Douglas, who has been alternatingwith Carr and Neal Olkewioz all season.